How to Recycle your Christmas Tree (or have it Recycled For You)

If you have a yard, there may be uses for that Douglas fir after it’s done its job for the season.   Here are a few.

Feed the birds in your garden. Turn the tree into an bird feeder by leaving strands of popcorn or cranberries right where they are and moving the tree, stand and all, to your garden.  Hang slices of oranges and pieces of suet (suet can also be smeared into the branches).  The birds can also perch in the branches for shelter from the elements and predators.  Pinecones filled with peanut butter and bird seed can be hung from the branches.

Just make sure you remove all decorations, hooks, garland and tinsel strands.   By summer you can use the mulching option below.

Shelter wildlife in your garden.  Just dump the tree on its side in a protected part of the yard to provide shelter for wildlife, including rabbits.  Allowed to decompose, the tree will become home to insects, fungi and possibly even amphibians and reptiles.

Use the trunk as support. With the branches removed, tree trunks can be turned into sturdy trellises or vegetable stakes.

Or as feeding areas for fish. Some people place their used trees in their fish ponds, where they serve as refuge and feeding areas for the fish.  Some experts recommend removing all the needles first, as they’re mildly toxic to the fish.

Use it as mulch. With a chipper/shredder, trees are quickly turned into mulch that’s perfect for paths.   Chipper/shredders are one of those seldom-used machines (like power washers) that are often shared by neighbors.  Even without a chipper, you can trim the branches and place them on perennial beds to reduce the heaving caused by cycles of freezing and thawing.


Chop it into firewood and kindling.
A typical fir can be turned into 13+ pounds of firewood.  Dry branches make great kindling for starting fires.

And if you don’t have a spot for the tree in your garden, there are still good uses that can be made of it.   As long as it doesn’t end up in the landfill, right?

Donate it for stream protection. Christmas trees are increasingly used to shore up streamsides as erosion control, so check with the nearest water protection group to see if they can put your tree to good use.  They may even pick up the tree for you.

Let your local government recycle it into compost or mulch.   Hopefully, your city or county has a composting operation for such valuable organic matter as yard waste and dying Christmas trees.   Check the details below but no matter where you live you’ll need to remove all decorations from the trees before pick-up.  And of course, the recycling option is for real trees only.  Artificial trees go out with the garbage (to the landfill).

Here are the details from some local jurisdictions.  You can also visit Earth911.org to find a local tree recycler.

  • The Montgomery County collects Christmas trees on your recycling day from Monday, December 27, 2010 through Friday, February 4, 2011. They ask that trees be put by the curb by 7 a.m. on your collection day.
  • Baltimore County - has both pick-up and drop-off options.
  • Here’s info from Baltimore City.
  • And from Anne Arundel County.
  • For Washington, the DC.gov website says that trees and wreaths will be picked up curbside from January 3 to January 15. Remove all decorations and place the greenery in the treebox space in front of your home between Sunday, January 2, and Sunday, January 9. Please do not put the trees in plastic or cloth bags.  Any trees not collected by January 15 should be set out with your trash to be picked up as space in the trash trucks allows over the following weeks.

Posted by Susan Harris. Nest photo credit. Tree photo credit.

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